By Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein, Air Force Print News
WASHINGTON (AFPN) — Reunited in a hotel ballroom just outside Washington, D.C., a small group of former Army Air Corps members were presented with long-overdue medals in a ceremony Sept. 9, 2006.
Gen. Ronald E. Keys, Air Combat Command commander, presented Francis Goldberg, John Bucko, John McCurdy and Eugene Peterson with Bronze Star medals they had been authorized to wear for more than 62 years but were never given to them. Kay Nehring also received a Bronze Star on behalf of her father, Charles Nehring.
“It gives me great pleasure to be here today, because this is important business to take care of,” General Keys said before the presentation. “This represents a lot for the warriors of today are standing on your shoulders, the shoulders of giants.”
The men, who traveled from across the country to attend, served in the 39th Troop Carrier Squadron. They were just a few names from a long list of Airmen from the 317th Troop Carrier Group named on the orders authorizing the medal for actions made Jan. 30 through Feb. 1, 1943, while stationed in the Pacific theater. They were responsible for delivering paratroopers into combat, and had often come under fire.
It was a case of a missing “z” that led to the evening's ceremony, said Mr. Bucko, who spelled his name as Buczko during the war.
“I had written some articles in the past, and one of my readers was a guy who researches military records,” he said. “During one of his researches, he noticed that during the war, I spelled my name differently and he wanted to know why I dropped the 'z' later on. I didn't know who this guy was, calling me up and asking about it, but then he also asked if I had a Bronze Star, and I answered that I didn't. Then he told me he had papers that said I was owed one.”
From there, the story ended up in the hands of Ann Rothrock, a history buff who joined the 39th Troop Carrier Association with her husband to learn more about World War II. The association reunites members of the 39th TCS annually.
“It was really an amazing story,” she said. “Once we were sure the orders were authentic, I started looking up the names and trying to find them and make this right.”
With use of the Internet, she tracked down members across the nation. A number of men had already passed away. Some couldn't be found. But she persisted.
“It was so nice to be able to call these men and tell them they were going to be awarded for their service after all these years,” she said. “You could hear the surprise and the humility in their voices.”
With the association's annual reunion quickly approaching, Mrs. Rothrock got in touch with the Langley Air Force Base, Va., office of General Keys, who took an immediate interest and agreed to present the medals in a ceremony.
Eugene Peterson, who brought members of his family to the event, said he enjoys being around his wartime buddies again.
“We weren't over there to receive any medals,” he said. “You don't remember the specific battles or things like that. You remember the fun times you had with them, the trouble you got into. We all just did our jobs over there the best we could, and just tried to get back to our families.”